Strong Economy May Lead to Low Employment in Oregon Corrections

By Rachel Leber

SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon Department of Corrections (DOC) is currently facing an employee shortfall. The shortfall is the result of several staff members becoming eligible for retirement in 2018, in addition to the currently booming economy in the state.

How does a booming economy lead to low employment numbers in corrections? As it turns out, when the economy is bad, people tend to gravitate towards jobs in law enforcement and corrections, according to Steve Cox, workforce planning administrator with the corrections department in a recent article from The Spokesman. And, as a result, the opposite is true when the economy is doing well.

In addition, the corrections employee market is similar to the stock market in the sense that it very much has the capability to go up and down, according to Cox.

Currently, the Oregon economy is “very strong,” which makes it more difficult for public safety agencies to hire, Cox said. With a staff of 4,700, the Oregon DOC currently struggles with about 330 existing job vacancies — and seemingly no qualified applicants lining up to take those jobs.

This fact has become increasingly disturbing as the numbers of DOC staff retirements have been consistently climbing in recent years. Ninety-eight employees retired in 2014, and 178 employees retired by the third quarter of 2017. Almost one-fifth (about 300) of the DOC’s workforce becomes retirement eligible in 2018, and by 2023, more than one-third of the workforce could retire, according to Cox.

While the situation may seem stark based on the statistics, many DOC staff members have chosen not to retire due to enjoying the work they do and feel like part of a family or believe in the agency’s mission, according to a recent article from The Statesman Journal. In addition, the Oregon DOC offers good health benefits and retirement benefits.

Nonetheless, the need to change recruitment methods is abound for the Oregon DOC. Officials are concertedly developing new strategies to attract a new generation of employees and are working hard to understand the younger generation’s priorities and strengths. DOC recruiters have switched to technology-based hiring, using social media and websites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Craigslist to draw new applicants.

In addition, the DOC now hosts virtual career fairs and have streamlined the hiring process into one-day recruiting events, where applicants can tour facilities, take proficiency tests and undergo interviews.